Muscle Music: Does Listening To Your iPod While You Work Out Make You Stronger?

In this article, I'm going to explore the theory/notion that those people with the IPod at the gym have a better advantage when working out. Using several sources, including online science articles, online study reports, and magazines, I'm going to explore the myth more in-depth. Why this subject matter? Simply because it's interesting. Any new study that boasts about performance benefits from simple habit changes or additions to routine is something that anyone can take something away from.

My personal experience while listening to my MP3 player while working out can't really prove or disprove this theory, simply because I'm not in the mindset--neither are most people when they workout or exercise. Personally, I listen to music while exercising to distract me from the happenings around me. It keeps me focused on the task at hand because, for example, I don't get caught up in conversation with another gym-goer in the middle of my work-out. I move from one set to the next with small rests in between. No distractions equals more work-out time, which I believe in turn translates to larger strength development and fitness gain. Another small contributing factor, I think, is that music (especially your favorite music) puts you in the zone. When you're listening to a song that motivates you, you're more likely to excel. This is just my personal reasoning, but let's explore more in-depth into the subject.

In the May 2007 issue of "Muscle and Fitness" magazine, Dr. Jim Stoppani put this theory to test when a subscriber asked the following:

"I recently bought an iPod to use at the gym. I swear that since I've been listening to my favorite songs while I train, my workouts are much better. My strength has shot up dramatically and I've gained noticeable muscle size. Can music really affect training, or am I just crazy?"

So, how else would you answer such an intriguing question? You put it to the test and tackle it head on. To explore the notion of muscle strength and overall aerobic increase, Muscle and Fitness gathered a group of professionally trained bodybuilders complete a simple shoulder workout on two separate days. For obvious reasons, this wasn't tested in one day because fatigue and lactic acid buildup would definitely skew the results. The routine was a simple 3 set overhead press with free-weights and three sets of free-weight lateral raises. These sets were done to each bodybuilder's 10 rep max (10RM) until each set is taken to failure. I, personally, don't like the use of the word "failure" in this context because the definition of the word and the context in this sense translate it to mean utter under-performance, which isn't the case. I'd rather the phrase "until fatigued" be used in place of 'failure'. During one workout, the subjects did the routines while listening to their choice of music on headphones. During the other, they did not listen to music.

So, what were the results? You might be surprised to find out. On every set of every exercise during the shoulder workouts, the test subjects had an average of at least one extra rep. Other times, two extra reps. All of the improvement was while listening to music. What exactly does this entail? Why did subjects perform better while listening to music? Was it just a psychological factor or is there some scientific reason or physiological improvement within the body?

The motivational factors are obvious. The magazine article points out music during dramatic scenes in movies. Do you think the "Rocky" training scene would have been as awe inspiring as it was without the Bill Conte theme? Of course not.

In the December 2006 issue of "The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness", a similar test was performed. In this case, it was performed on test subjects doing aerobics - running and walking. The study showed that music actually helped increase speed while running and decreased fatigue. As stated in previous paragraphs, the same can now be determined while doing strength and weight resistance exercises.

Music helps motivate. Period. Why do you think aerobic trainers use fast-paced music during aerobic and exercise classes? Because it pumps you up. It motivates you, it gives you a sense of rhythm within yourself. As an added bonus, you can even consider that you're just dancing intensely as opposed to working out strenuously. Instructors use music as an ergogenic aid and have been since the introduction of aerobic dance in the early 1970's.

What effect does music have on your heart rate and respiration? This has been of particular interest to researchers for years due to the importance of physical fitness and disease prevention. The cardiac responses while doing aerobics to music are outstanding. Why are scientists so intrigued about music and working out? Simply put, the value of controlling respiratory activity is of particular interest because it can assist in treatment of different heart and artery conditions.

Several decades ago, 1952 to be exact, Dr. Ellis and Dr. Brighouse tested the theory of music being added to an aerobic routine. Studies concluded that the average heart rate increased from 72-80 beats per minute to 70 to 170 beats per minute. The two concluded that music probably does produce a physiological, or emotional, effect thus increasing heart rate.

Is the heart rate and respiratory increase only with upbeat, fast paced music? Or would any style of music suffice? In 1977, a scientist named Dainow concluded that any type of music, whether it be slow, moderate, or fast tempo, actually increases the heart rate a certain degree. This is widely affected by the subject's personal preference and passion of music. Personal preference does need to be taken into consideration. If, for example, the most awesome and knowledgeable personal trainer in the entire world, Melissa Schmidt designed an aerobic workout for her class while playing classic rock in the background, not all students would have the same effect on heart rate. Although studies have concluded that any type of music while working out has some degree of cardiac increase, I personally believe that this has to be taken with a subject by subject account. I.E., one of my friends doesn't like music. Hard to believe, I know. He cannot listen to music at all. It's not that he enjoys certain genres more than others, he just looks at music with disdain whether it be jazz or rock. If a boombox happened to be playing in the gym while he worked out, odds are that it might hinder his performance. Could I hit the bench press just as hard with Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" blaring in the background as much as I could with some hard-rock or heavy metal? Definitely not. If a subject, albeit it rare, dislikes music in general, then any type of organized sound would alter his performance level for the worse. But enough about the very miniscule population of people that dislike music. Any time I reference music-haters from this point on, I'll use the term "complete frickin' idiots".

Now that you know that it's been determined that music can alter your workout for the greater, how about the tempo of music? Can you see a greater result with a much heavier tempo song? More specifically, how about strength gain? Well, I could only find one study on strength gains with different types of music. In 1981, Dr. Pearce conducted research on subjects while listening to stimulative music, sedative music, and no music. The results were actually quite surprising. Sedative(Slow tempo) music actually decreased strength significantly compared to upbeat music and silence. The surprising element here is that slow music actually produced less results than complete silence. Also surprising was that stimulative music and silence showed absolutely no difference in strength gains or loss.

What does this mean? Well, it would appear that mild or slow music can actually hinder your performance and training ability quite drastically. This research has to be taken into consideration that there are no other published studies on music type and performance. What can a personal trainer take from just this study alone? Be very wise with your choice of workout environment with a client. For your client's benefit, your best choices would be no music or high-tempo music.

70 college students enrolled in an aerobic dance class (35 male and 35 female) were surveyed on music elements and how they felt or perceived each element improved their performance. 97% of the students indicated that they felt the music affected their aerobic performance. The following factors and percentages indicate how much each one affected the student's perceived influence: music style (97%), rhythm or beat (94%), tempo (96%), lyrics (77%), volume (66%), mood (37%) and melody (17%). The correlation between the responses of males and females indicated that gender isn't a great factor.

In conclusion, if you don't already plug those ear-buds into your ear before you hit the weights or go for that run, you should consider it. Research has proven that beneficial strength and performance gains are more than possible when your workout is accompanied by music. Load up that iPod with your favorite songs and hit the gym. You just might be surprised by the results you see when working out to music. Be sure to listen to music you actually like. Whether it be 50 Cent, Fallout Boy, or Queen - light those ear drums up with some happiness.

1 comment:

  1. i have to do a report on music's effect on our bodies.
    & this is really interesting and helpful.
    thank you!